Why mobile device management needs consumer ambassadors

Someday we’ll all tell our children about how we used to have to “sign out” laptops from work, as if they were library books. They’ll laugh their heads off.

It already seems like something from yesteryear: If you were travelling on business or needed to do something from home, you’d visit the IT department and be given a hulking, wheezing antique of a notebook computer. The device was most likely the castoff of a more senior employee who had been grudgingly given something slightly less obsolete after repeated demands. You know that if you goofed off with the laptop by shopping online or sending personal messages (this was before social media) the company would probably find out. You had no choice but to treat such objects with a certain amount of professionalism and respect.

Now, everyone brings in the latest and greatest to work, and more companies than ever are thinking about how they can meet employees at least half-way. A survey report released this week from retailer CDW Canada showed that almost half of the respondents, or 47 per cent, cited “mobile management” as a concern. Businesses can’t quite accept that they’re not the ones in charge of hardware anymore, and they’re terrified employees will treat their own laptops and tablets more carelessly than if they were corporately issued.

Daniel Reio, CDW Canada’s director of marketing, said mitigating risk is the “first wave” of mobile penetration into the office. “What’s next, ideally, is fully embracing mobility and its possibilities,” he says. It’s where companies spend more of their time taking desktop business software and turning them into something that will look good and work as well on a smartphone as it does on a laptop.

Most senior technology people I talk to in large organizations are still firmly in stage one. They know there are tools out there to protect corporate data on personal devices, or segment off the “work” stuff people will do on a consumer product versus checking Facebook and playing mobile games. A good example is Redwood City, Calif.-based MokaFive, which offers software that can manage everything from the Samsung Galaxy S4 to the latest iPad without any business information being lost.

The problem, according to MokaFive CEO Dave Robbins, is that “it’s the tail that’s wagging the dog, in that it’s the employees who are putting the pressure on companies to use the devices they want.”

I asked MokaFive if that meant that, instead of explicitly targeting IT professionals with their products and services, they would try instead to educate everyday consumers about them, who could then suggest those products as a way of fending off IT department objections? He said yes. In fact, the company likens the model to that taken by the pharmaceutical industry, where the mass market learns about the latest little blue pill and then asks (or annoys) their doctor about getting a prescription for it. This could get interesting: If IT professionals continue to see mobile device proliferation as some kind of disease, perhaps the winners in the mobile management space will be those who co-opt consumers into selling the cure.